question of the day: Why are Christian movies so awful?

Apparently Soul Surfer — the true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark but returned to surfing — is a “Christian” movie, a “faith-based” flick. Who knew? (I haven’t seen it yet; it won’t open in the U.K. till June.) I suppose the title should have tipped me off, but it didn’t. And nothing in the trailer is particularly Christian-y. Also, apparently, the film is not very good.

So, wonders Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, why is it that so many of these movies designed to appeal to American evangelical Christian audiences are so very terrible? The one thing O’Hehir hits on that comes closes to a rationale, if not an explanation:

If evangelical Christians want to see their life and faith and values reflected on-screen, I guess that’s understandable. But movies are not mirrors, and the mass audiences that went to see “The King’s Speech” or “Black Swan” or “The Social Network” didn’t necessarily identify with the characters or their lifestyles. Although the prehistory of Christian cinema goes back several decades — the Campus Crusade for Christ film “Jesus” played mainstream theaters in 1979 — with the solitary exception of Gibson’s gruesome and visionary “Passion of the Christ” the genre hasn’t evolved past the most tedious stage of message-delivery and representational politics. (Insert joke here about Christians and evolution.) At the risk of offending many people in many different directions, Christian cinema reminds me of gay cinema. If, that is, gay cinema were permanently stuck in 1986, with a self-ghettoizing mandate to present positive role models for youth and tell an anodyne but uplifting story that sends a message of hope.

But that raises yet another question: How could a subset of American culture that dominates the way that evangelical Christians do be as insecure in that position as are homosexuals, who have been long derided and discriminated against? I mean, I understand why gay cinema, even when it’s trite and sentimental, is driven to create positive role models and uplifting stories: to counter the loooong tradition of terrible images and negative examples in the larger culture. But why should evangelical Christians feel that way? Why should that manifest itself in movies that are far more focused on preaching than they are on character and story?

Why are Christian movies so awful?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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